Thursday, October 31, 2013
Mark 8:14 ¶ Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Mark 8:15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.”
Mark 8:16 They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.”
Mark 8:17 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
Mark 8:18 Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?
Mark 8:19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.”
Mark 8:20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.”
Mark 8:21 Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
Another story about bread. Can’t you just imagine the frustration in Jesus’ voice. They’ve had another long day of ministry, part of which included Jesus feeding 4000 people. There had been seven basketfuls of bread left over — the perfect number! It had revealed the perfection or completion of the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God…and now they’re in a boat arguing over the fact that they had only brought one loaf of bread with them.
The Pharisees and Herod could not see that Jesus was the Messiah and this negative attitude and spirit was contagious. Jesus wanted them to be careful not to be infected with a spirit of unbelief — and yet, they thought he was talking about literal bread from the Pharisees and Herod. Why would they ever need to go to them for bread, if Jesus were the bread of life — if Jesus were able to provide manna from heaven?
How soon they forgot! They needed a gentle reminder about what Jesus had already done for them. Look, listen and remember! Not only did Jesus feed the five thousand, but he provided an extra basketful of broken pieces for every disciple. Then, he broke seven loaves and fed four thousand — with seven basketfuls left-over. What would it take for them to “get it?”
Remember the old cellular phone commercial with the man traveling the world and asking, “Can you hear me now?” I believe Jesus is asking the disciples, “Do you get it now?” While the cellular man walked the world looking for remote locations where he could prove the signal worked, Jesus also traveled the known world doing miracle after miracle proving he was the Son of God and literally asking those right in front of him, “Do you get it now?” How many times would it take? How many more miracles would he need to show them? How many more times would he have to tell them?
Now, let’s place ourselves in that same boat. How many times does the Lord have to reveal himself to us for us to really “get it?” He reminds us that he took us through those really difficult days — he sustained us, he fed us and he nourished us.
But we become frustrated with new and different issues! We become distracted by the “yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” We become drawn to being religious and the tug of the secular world. They place doubts in our minds regarding the ability of Christ to sustain us. Then, he looks at us and reminds us to open our eyes, listen with our ears and remember! Jesus has been with us all the time. Every time that we needed him to supply our needs, he did! Not only did he provide enough for us for the moment, he gave us sustaining grace to continue on the journey. Will he not do the same today?
Yes, of course he will — if only we “get it!” Instead of looking for human solutions to the problems that confront us, we must look to Jesus, the Son of God. The sustainer and provider of all things is asking us to simply put our trust in him. He has cared for us before, he will care for us again. Now, may we continue on our journey, never whining or complaining about our one loaf of bread, but instead, putting our trust in the One who provides the bread. That’s the only way we will ever “get it!”
Lord, thank you for your patience as you allow us to “get it.” Amen.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Mark 6:49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out;
Mark 6:50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Mark 6:51 Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded,
Mark 6:52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
The key phrase to the scripture today is “they did not understand about the loaves.” Somehow the disciples were unable to connect the dots between Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 and his ability to calm storms, or walk on water. The scripture goes on to say, “but their hearts were hardened.” Wesley says “they were not reprobates.” In other words, they weren’t sinners. These were the followers of Jesus Christ who had been with him day in and day out and were watching what he was doing and experiencing his miracles, and yet, they didn’t get it! They didn’t see that Jesus was the solution to their problems and that he was right there in front of them.
The problem with Jesus was that they seemed to have compartmentalized him, or at least his miracles. They saw them as isolated incidents and didn’t recognize that the pieces fit together into a much larger picture. Hence the comment, “they did not understand about the loaves.” Why were the loaves so important in understanding who Jesus was? Because the loaves represented much more than simply feeding a crowd one day, but instead pointed to Jesus being the Messiah. When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years they were fed on a daily basis by the manna which came from heaven. This bread of heaven supplied their needs every single day and was a direct sign of the presence of God, and the ability of God to supply our daily needs. What was it that Jesus taught his disciples to pray? “Give us this day our daily bread.” As Jesus was able to supply the daily bread to 5000 people it was a prophetic sign that he was connected to the manna from heaven. The same God who could call down manna was still in the business of providing daily bread. Jesus was God! And Jesus would go on to become broken bread and poured out wine for all of us on the cross. Jesus was the Messiah and had all power and authority of God. Yes, he could supply daily bread, and he could calm the seas. The solution to the disciples’ problems was right in front of them — if only they could really see.
Good people, followers of Jesus Christ, but unable to see beyond the everyday and into the eyes of the Son of God and who he really is! Could that possibly describe you and me these days? For the disciples each and every day was filled with its challenges. They saw Jesus as a person who was, from time to time, able to intervene in those circumstances, but they didn’t see him for who he really was. They “did not understand about the loaves.”
Do we really understand about the loaves? If we did, we would have faith to trust God to work out all the circumstances of life. We would have faith to believe that Jesus can truly supply our daily bread. Remember, it wasn’t the weekly, or the monthly, or the yearly bread. It was the daily bread. Too often we want to see the big picture and know what is going to happen down the road when we are to simply have faith and trust that the Lord will provide when we need provision. Not too early, not too late, but right on time!
Do we also understand that the storms will come up and we will be riding some rough waves — but in the midst of those, Jesus can calm the storm? The disciples couldn’t put the connection together between the daily bread and the rough days. Every act of Jesus Christ, intervening in our lives, is a sweet reminder of his love for us and his ability to walk on the water, coming to us in the midst of our storms. Jesus left the safety of the shore and walked on the water coming to the disciples while they were in the midst of their struggles. We don’t have to go to him, he will come to us — but we have to have the faith to see the connection between the bread and Jesus.
Jesus, the one who has become for us manna from heaven, is the very solution to what ails us today. He is God. We need to look to him, have faith in him, and trust him to take us through life for he is much more than a good man who could do miracles, he is the all-powerful one who sustains. That’s the solution we need today. The sustaining power of our holy God who can bring us bread, or calm the storm. Do you understand about the loves?
Lord, thank you for being patient with us and wanting us to understand. Amen.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Mark 4:39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
The storm had started up soon after they set out to sea and yet through it all Jesus had rested and was still. How could he sleep through such bad weather. Finally, when he did wake up, while the disciples were terrified, he simply rebuked the wind and declared “peace” over the storm. The storm didn’t just die down, “the wind ceased.” It was all over, Jesus had spoken and now “there was a dead calm.”
A year ago the United States was dealing with Hurricane Sandy and the devastating effects that were felt across the east coast. A year later northern Europe is dealing with the aftermath of hurricane force winds which hit just yesterday. Horrible storms causing millions of dollars worth of damage, bringing the loss of life and the transformation of coastal cities in just a few hours’ time. I know that there were those in the midst of these storms praying for a supernatural peace.
The disciples didn’t even know what to pray for! They had been faithfully serving together with Jesus but now they found themselves in a terrible storm, wondering if they would even survive. How was it that Jesus could sleep through it all? The disciples didn’t seem to understand that Jesus could calm the storm. That’s why they didn’t know what to do — they were frustrated with Jesus because they were trying to get the water out of the boat and he was simply sleeping. They finally asked him whether he cared that they were going to die?! But they never asked him to take control of their problem.
I think that there have been times in life when I can find myself on this boat. I feel like I have been faithful and I have been serving the Lord. I’m traveling with him and then all of a sudden it seems as if the boat is going to sink. It’s filling up with water as troubles surround and begin to fill up the boat. Without bothering the Lord I begin to try to problem solve on my own. How can I get this water out of here? Maybe I organize a bucket brigade but nothing that I do as a human is going to solve the storm problem. Whatever I can accomplish will only treat the symptom, but never reach to the cause. I can get some water out of the boat, but I cannot calm the storm. And no matter how hard I try to get the water out of the boat, there is a distinct possibility that the boat will still sink.
Why is it that we want to spend our time fighting and working at the symptoms without asking Jesus to speak to the cause? Our response to Jesus is often the same as the disciples’; “Do you want us to perish?” Instead of asking for help, we shout at him in frustration! Can’t you see what’s going on here Jesus? This ship is sinking and I’m doing everything I can to keep it from sinking and you’re not doing anything! And why not? Because this storm is of small consequence to him — all he has to do is speak the word and it will be calm. And then he looks at the disciples and asks them about their faith. Why didn’t they ask Jesus to help them? They had watched him do miracles, why didn’t they think he could save them now?
So often we are trying to get the water out of our sinking boat while crying out to God in frustration. Why not simply go to Jesus, wake him up and ask for his help? Do we think that God doesn’t want to be bothered by our problems? Jesus still cares about the storms of life in which we find ourselves. He is still in the business of calming the storm. Maybe it’s time that we stop trying to solve our own problems and begin taking our problems to the one who can calm the sea. It is in the relinquishing of our frustrations that we will find peace in the storm.
Lord, thank you for your work that continues to calm the storms of life. Amen.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Job 19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
Job 19:26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
Job 19:27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
Job tries to make sense of his circumstances but they seem to be beyond his comprehension. At the same time he continues to trust in God. He is trying to see the good in the bad and in that moment his voice becomes prophetic. His salvation may not come during this lifetime. His Redeemer — his vindicator — does live and eventually at the end of time he will be the one who is victorious. Job, with no knowledge of Jesus or the Messiah speaks of a Redeemer who will step into time and be all-victorious. Somehow Job breathes words that draw us into a future where there will be the resurrection of the dead and a kins-man Redeemer who will pay the price and fight the battle against evil.
We must all confess that there are times when life throws us a curve ball. Job had more than a curve ball, he had already lost or was close to losing just about everything. He is discouraged and assumes that his only vindication will come through death. Interestingly it is when things become the worst, when he is in the moment of the bad, that the good happens. This prophetic word of Job’s stands out and has become one of encouragement, not only to Job, but to humanity for generations and generations to come.
As Handel wrote his epic oratorio, “The Messiah” he was inspired by these words from Job. We hear them quoted over and over again as the soprano soloist sings the air, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” As that song rings in our ears we are ushered to a place of holy worship, at that moment forgetting that the words were birthed out of a severe and deep pain. The joy of the worship overshadows the place of Job’s pain.
Could it be that God wants to take the “bad” in our lives and turn it into something we would have never even imagined? Could it be that when we put our trust in God the “bad” can transcend human understanding and take us to a place of “good” beyond our comprehension?
A lady from our former church in Fort Wayne, Indiana has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is one of the worst cancers that you can get — a terrible diagnosis! And yet, she has chosen in the midst of the bad, to find the good. Not knowing much about pancreatic cancer she has tackled the issue with great strength and courage and in a few short months has become an activist in the cause of fighting her disease. Her finding “the good in the bad” is inspiring her entire community and she even made the local paper just a few days ago. Read Traci’s story here.
Yes, I hate it when bad things happen! At the same time it’s good to be reminded by people like Job that there can be good in the bad, and that good may be far beyond what we can see at the present. Job remained faithful, he trusted God and he refused to curse God or give up. Maybe in the midst of the bad we ought to do the same and who knows, maybe a song of joy will be birthed that will be contagious throughout the world.
Lord, please help me to trust in you when it seems there is bad, and seek the good. Amen.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Acts 28:30 ¶ He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him,
Acts 28:31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Paul finally arrived in Rome and immediately set up house. Yes, he was under house arrest but he didn’t let that be a hindrance to what he believed God wanted him to accomplish. Even while under arrest he ministered to others and spread the gospel. He was intentional about everything that he did. He invited leaders to his home and when they came he shared with them the hope that he had in Jesus Christ. He continued preaching and teaching from his house for two years “with all boldness and without hindrance.” And he did all of this at his own expense.
What excuses do we have today for not doing the work of the Lord? Somehow we have preconceived notions of what it would take in terms of material resources to do God’s work. Paul, however, shows us what it means to simply be blessed by the circumstances in which you find yourself and make the best of it. Paul knew that he was to minister in Rome. I’m not sure his intent originally was to get there as a prisoner of the Roman Empire. However — they paid his way there :)
Paul had learned to be co-vocational for most of his ministry. He tried hard not to be a burden on those around him and while he was probably the greatest missionary of all time, he did that while being a tent-maker. However, I doubt he saw being a tent-maker as a distraction from his calling, instead I believed he used his tent-making as another platform from which to share Jesus with his customers. This got him out into the market-place and sporting events of his day and rubbing shoulders with a crowd with whom he would not have met on a regular basis had he not been making tents. He never had a time when he was a “missionary” and when he was not. When one door closed, he simply walked through another and continued sharing Christ with everyone who would listen!
When you think about it, how unlikely is it that Paul, a prisoner in Rome, would preach and teach about Jesus “with all boldness and without hindrance” and yet, that is what he did. So, what excuses am I making today for not doing all that God might want me to do? If I look at Paul’s life, I have no excuse whatsoever. My circumstances are nothing compared with those of Paul! If he could plant a church in a house in which he was imprisoned — just by ministering to his guards and inviting people into his home — what can I do — free to move about and be in contact with the world around me! May God give us evangelism eyes to see the world the way he does and make the most of every single circumstance in which we find ourselves to proclaim the kingdom of God and teach others about our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
Lord, thank you for the boldness of Paul — and may just a little of that rub off on me. Amen.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Acts 26:28 Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?”
Acts 26:29 Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Every opportunity in life was used by Paul to share what he had learned about his Savior, Jesus Christ! Here he was before Agrippa arguing his case and Paul became impassioned with the story of Jesus’ work in his own personal life. King Agrippa is obviously moved by Paul’s testimony but is only willing to listen to a certain extent. He stops Paul and asks him rather incredulously, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” Obviously Paul was or he would not have asked the question.
Paul expresses the heart of the Lord when he says “quickly or not.” In 2 Peter 3:9 we read, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
How long have you been praying for a loved one to come to Christ? We are called to never give up because “quickly or not” — what we desire is for that person to come to know the Lord in a very personal way.
I’ve been teaching some classes this week at a Christian institution and I find the conversations with students quite fascinating. We are living in a day and age when many young people who have been born in Christian homes don’t see that there is a need to “enter” into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Even among those raised within Christianity many young people have become a type of universalist; believing that everyone will eventually be saved and therefore the need for repentance or salvation is no longer important to them. Also, as a result, there is no passion for the lost. Why would there be — if there is no sense that others are lost?
But is this truly what we learn from the word of God? Paul had a burning passion for everyone that he met. He was praying for them and trying to help them come to know Christ in a personal way. This passion burned within him to the point that “quickly or not” he would continue to encourage people to become followers of Christ.
In the 4th century a young lady named Nonna found herself in an arranged marriage. She was a Christian but her husband was not. The passion within her for Christ led her to a prayer life in which “quickly or not” she asked God to draw her husband toward him. Finally after many years of patient prayer and a by living a life of faith before him, her husband gave his life to the Lord and went on to become a great spiritual leader himself. She is referred to as “the drip that hollowed out the stone.” Her prayers, patient, and his response, not quickly — meant that she prayed and prayed and prayed until finally he gave his life to Christ. This was the passion of her heart — that he would come to know the Lord.
My prayer today is that we will again have a burden for the lost — one which will drive us to our knees and to seeking out every opportunity which may arise in which we can present the Gospel. And while we live in a world that expects fast results — may we have the patience that “quickly or not” we will help lead people to Christ.
Lord, please use me today in your kingdom’s work.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Acts 23:11 ¶ That night the Lord stood near him and said, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.”
Paul was on a trajectory that would ultimately lead to his death yet, in the midst of it all, the Lord came near to him and told him to keep up his courage. For Paul there needed to be an understanding that all of this was a part of God’s plan and leading. This was the course laid out ahead of Paul. He had testified for Jesus in Jerusalem, but he had to also get to Rome. How would he get there? As a “guest” of the Roman government.
The circumstances in which Paul found himself were not pleasant and there may be times in life when we find ourselves at a place where life has become extremely difficult. We may receive a diagnosis that throws us for a loop. We may have found a wrinkle in the course we thought was laid out before us. We may have barriers to a relationship that we thought was going well. We may have financial difficulties we would have never expected. And the list goes on.
But in the very midst of the struggles, while Paul is in jail, “the Lord stood near him.” I’m thinking that may have been even more significant than the words that the Lord spoke. There is a promise here for us. When we find ourselves in those difficult circumstances, the Lord comes and stands near to us. His holy presence surrounds us and a holy hush washes over our spirit and brings us such peace. It is his presence that will go with us, whether in jail, or on a boat, or to a new city, or to the doctor’s office, or through surgery, or to the creditors...for God truly does have a plan.
Everywhere that Paul went, he made use of the opportunity. Nothing was ever wasted on Paul because he saw each bend in the road as a bend provided by God. Was there an unexpected detour in the journey? Then there must be a reason why. Paul had testified for the Lord in Jerusalem — now he would get to testify in Rome. We have had the privilege of testifying about the grace of Jesus where we are now — but will we be faithful throughout the journey ahead?
The words were for Paul, but they are for us today as well. “Keep up your courage!” The Lord is near to you, and the Lord has a plan in all of this. This is the course laid before you and you are to walk in it and bear witness to the Lord all along the way. That is God’s plan. We are simply to go with him on the journey. So today, “keep up your courage!” God really is in charge.
Lord, thank you for coming and standing near. Amen.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Acts 20:24 But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.
Paul was being obedient to God and was on a journey which was different from any other on which he had embarked. This was a journey that would lead him to the end — to the telos — to the completion of his journey and ministry here on earth. No longer would he be traveling around as a missionary, but he he knew that the journey would bring his life to an end. It might begin in Jerusalem, take him to Caesarea and eventually to Rome — it might take time, but it was a different journey. Knowing this time things were different, Paul was saying farewell to some very dear friends. He wanted them to know who he was working for — and why he would continue on his journey. Paul wants to finish and fulfill his ministry in a way that would be pleasing to God. He didn’t work for anyone else — God and God alone! His joy was only in pleasing and glorifying God and this was accomplished by testifying to the good news of the grace of God.
I think that many of us struggle with finding our true purpose in life. We want to know the vocation to which we are called and we want to do it well. We are hoping that we are successful in the eyes of the world and that we will receive kudos from those around us, a validation of who we are and what we are doing. Unfortunately as followers of Jesus Christ that validation may never come from those around us, but may only come from God.
We must seek God and him alone, and in doing so he will reveal to us day by day and moment by moment the purposes of our lives. Paul understood that his calling was to “testify to the good news of God’s grace.” He was to do this everywhere he went and the result was churches were planted throughout the known world.
But what about you and me? What can we learn today from Paul?
1) That we all have a course set before us — a course to run, a job to do. If God is before us, and if we follow him faithfully we will discover that we are on our course as we follow him in obedience. Sometimes we may wonder about where we are and what we’re doing, but eventually it will all be made clear.
2) There will be times when we are discouraged as we travel our course. Paul had to face danger and fear of death. No matter how much the world throws at us, we are only in true danger when we do not fulfill the purpose for which God has created us. When we are disobedient we make God our enemy and that is the most dangerous place in which to find ourselves. Therefore we should abandon ourselves to the course that God has laid before us.
3) The end of the course for Paul was joy. Joy awaits us as well if we will live faithfully to the end. Paul knew that human death awaited him and yet he knew that ultimately joy would triumph over death. In this we can have hope!
4) Barnes tells us that it doesn’t really matter “when, or where, or how we die, if we die in the discharge of our duty to God. He will order the circumstances of our departure; and he can sustain us in the last conflict. Happy is that life which is spent in doing the will of God, and peaceful that death which closes a life of toil and trial in the service of the Lord Jesus.”
Every follower of Christ, clergy or layperson, is called to passionately serve God in the course laid before them. Our purpose in life is to follow that course and win the race before us, to the glory of God. In this we will find peace and joy.
Lord, please help us to keep our eyes on you and not be distracted from the course you have laid out before us. Amen.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Job 13:1 ¶ “Look, my eye has seen all this,
my ear has heard and understood it.
Job 13:2 What you know, I also know;
I am not inferior to you.
Job 13:3 But I would speak to the Almighty,
and I desire to argue my case with God.
Job 13:4 As for you, you whitewash with lies;
all of you are worthless physicians.
Job's friends had been giving him all kinds of advice but now, he was tired of hearing what they had to say. He knew all the human answers to his problems as much as his friends did, and in that moment he realized that his comfort did not come from what humans knowledge, but in what God knows. Job needed to trust in God and he recognized that speaking directly to God about his problems was the best way to go. Why discuss the issues with people around us -- why not trust in God! His friends? They tried to cover up the truth with lies and there was no healing in their responses. Only God is the true healer, the great physician and to know him, is to know Truth.
Here we are, another day of hanging out with Job and his on-going conversation with friends. When we are in distress, where do we go? Is our very first response to go to friends and talk to them about everything that's going on? Why is that? Could it be because we want our "friends" to tell us what we want to hear? They will usually respond with "whitewashed lies." Why is that? Because they want us to like them and so they tell us what we think we want from them. They honestly believe that they are responding in love by telling us what they think will make us feel better. The only problem with that is that their responses don't bring about healing, they only allow the wound to fester. The result, our friends become worthless physicians for the infection continues and there is no healing in comments that only make us feel better.
It is in the midst of this discussion that Job cries out, "I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God." It's time to stop talking to all your friends, and have a serious conversation with God. At the crux of this is whether we trust in God or not. If we are walking with God and are in a relationship with him, then we should be able to trust him to tell us the truth. God's truth will set us free and bring healing. God's truth may be painful for a little while as we fully grasp what he is saying to us, but he is much more trustworthy than those who will try to tickle our ears with lies.
Where is your trust today? I'd rather take my chances with God any day -- how about you?
Lord, thank you that we can trust in you. Amen.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Job 12:1 ¶ Then Job answered:
Job 12:2 “No doubt you are the people,
and wisdom will die with you.
Job 12:3 But I have understanding as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
Who does not know such things as these?
Job 12:4 I am a laughingstock to my friends;
I, who called upon God and he answered me,
a just and blameless man, I am a laughingstock.
I'm sure that we would all answer the question, "Are you wiser than God?" with a resounding "No!" And yet, could it be that our lives sometimes reflect a different kind of attitude? Job's friends had been trying to give him all kinds of advice and now he responds. His opening comment is simply dripping with sarcasm. "No doubt you are the people and wisdom will die with you." In other words -- you are such amazing people and you have the gift of all the wisdom of the world -- and you actually believe that you have all this wisdom and that when you die, the earth will be sad for you will have taken all of this with you!
Then, Job responds to them. They don't have a corner on wisdom, for Job has called upon God. His understanding comes from God because not only has he called on God, but God has answered him. Job is able to discern between the voice of God and the voice of those on the earth. Job has continued to live a faithful life, he knows he is blameless. Sadly, his friends who believe they are wiser than God have made him a laughing stock.
This is a pretty uncomfortable portion of scripture. Job is a good man who is suffering for being just and blameless. Can we ever find ourselves in his place? Yes, I believe that we can and then numerous people try to come around us and give us good-sounding advice without seeking God. Sadly, even those of us who have been serving in the Church for many years can jump to the conclusion that we are the voice of God, when we haven't taken time to seek the face of God. Suddenly we can find ourselves in the very place of Job's friends, and without thinking about it, we may have thought that we were wiser than God. That's why Job's sarcasm is healthy for us. Wait a minute -- are we thinking that we can make decisions or speak for God without first seeking him?
I believe that Job takes a deep breath before he responds. Not only has he been slammed physically and emotionally but now he is struggling with inferiority because of their comments. No -- wait a minute, he is not inferior to these friends of his who believe that they are so wise. Of course, Job does know the common-sense responses, but he knows more than this. Job has walked and talked with God to the point that he recognizes the voice of God when he hears it. Therefore the responses of his friends pale in comparison to the conversations he's had with God. There is no way his friends understand the wisdom of God, because Job has experienced God personally.
There may be times when friends and "people" will try to assume that they are wiser than God. If we are walking and talking with God on a daily basis then we will be able to discern whether the wisdom is from God, or from people.
God is our strength.
God is our refuge.
God is our help in times of need.
Walk with God.
Talk with God.
Live blamelessly and justly before God.
The world around you may laugh -- but you will know God and his wisdom and love will sustain us until the end of our days.
Lord, please give me discernment to hear your voice of wisdom. Amen.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Acts 13:40 Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you:
Acts 13:41 ‘Look, you scoffers!
Be amazed and perish,
for in your days I am doing a work,
a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.’”
Paul and Barnabas were responding to the crowd, which included the religious leaders of the day. They had heard the news about Jesus Christ -- they should have known and seen that he truly was the Messiah, and yet, they were blind. This quote comes from Hab. 1:5 -- where the people of Israel are warned about their lack of repentance. Because they are stubborn, they are going to be overrun by the Chaldeans. The religious leaders listening to Paul and Barnabas would have instantly understood what it was they were saying through this scripture. The quote is from the Septuagint, and not from the Hebrew and therefore is a little different from the original. The NIV translates Hab. 1:5 as:
“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
You see there are a couple of additions in Paul's version. He refers to the listeners around him as "scoffers." They scoffed at the idea that Jesus was the Messiah. They scoffed at the message that they had heard. They scoffed at the disciples themselves.
In the original the people are simply going to be amazed -- now, they are going to be "amazed and perish." Not only will the land be overrun and Israel destroyed, but on a personal level, if they refuse to accept Christ as the Messiah, they will perish for all of eternity.
I had to stop at this verse of scripture today because it's always had a very special place in my heart. When I turned eighteen years of age I had a very significant spiritual experience. I had really struggled with giving God everything in my life -- especially my future. I wanted to control where I would go and what I would do. It felt so much safer that way. After wrestling with God for months I clearly remember the night when I turned everything over to him! It was that night that I was led to this scripture -- the original one -- found in Habakkuk.
“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told."
For a young lady who was born in Germany the very summer that the Berlin Wall was built -- this had significance for my life. In my lifetime I have watched the nations with utter amazement -- as the Iron Curtain fell and the world literally changed. Then, this little girl who had lived in fear of the wall and what lay behind it, was asked to go into the post-Communist world and serve the Lord there. Yes -- I have looked at the nations and watched and been utterly amazed. You see, for me, this passage brought a positive message, one that said that God could even take down the powers and principalities of this world and we would all be amazed.
But now, Paul's use of this scripture is very different. The warning sounded in the simple and subtle change of words is significant. Yes, the original had been a warning of doom for the people of Israel -- for the nation as a whole. But now, the warning goes to something extremely personal, and that is eternal punishment for the rejection of Christ.
Barnes shares the following thoughts:
(1.) that men may see, and be amazed at the works of God, and yet be destroyed.
(2.) There may be a prejudice so obstinate that even a Divine revelation will not remove it.
(3.) The fancied security of sinners will not save them.
(4.) There are men who will not believe in the possibility of their being lost, though it be declared by the prophets, by apostles, by the Saviour, and by God. They will still remain in fancied security, and suffer nothing to alarm or rouse them. But
(5.) the fancied security of the Jews furnished no safety against the Babylonians or the Romans. Nor will the indifference and unconcern of sinners furnish any security against the dreadful wrath of God. Yet there are multitudes who live amidst the displays of God’s power and mercy in the redemption of sinners; who witness the effects of his goodness and truth in revivals of religion, who live to despise it all; who are amazed and confounded by it; and who shall yet perish.
For me, personally, this is a challenge to look at the scripture which has been a promise, and examine where I stand before God. Am I a scoffer? Have I become obstinate in wanting Christ on my own terms? I believe that God still wants to do amazing things in these days, but only for those who can look beyond what is directly ahead and truly see Christ. He transcends our understanding and sometimes, even if we were told, we would not comprehend his ways. It's a solemn reminder to not be a scoffer, or risk perishing.
Lord, thank you for your wondrous acts which we continue to see in the world today. Amen.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Job 7:19 Will you not look away from me for a while,
let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
Job responds to his friends and speaks out in the midst of his frustration. Why does God have to keep looking at him? Can't God seek that he is miserable? If only God would turn his back for just a moment -- then God would not see the sins in Job's life. That phrase, "until I swallow my spittle" is a saying to this day in the Middle East -- meaning just a moment of time; enough time to stop talking and swallow the spit in my mouth. Or, give me a moment to parch my thirst with a drink and swallow the spit. But God won't -- he won't turn away, not even for a second. Not only does God continue to see everything, but God's face continues to shine on Job.
I remember a number of times as a young mom that I would wake up during the night because it felt that there were eyes on me. Looking into the darkness I'd see the frame of a little girl who'd gotten out of bed and wanted desperately to talk to her Mommy, or climb in bed to be comforted. She wouldn't touch me or try to awaken me -- but there was something about sensing the presence of that precious little person in the room that would awaken me -- knowing that those eyes were on me.
Just as a mom as radar to sense the eyes of a little child on her while she sleeps, so Job was sensing the eyes of God on him. In his frustration with life he wanted to do something -- to sin -- but he didn't want God to see it! If only God would stop looking at me! But God will NEVER stop looking on his children. He loves us too much to turn his back on us and so, no matter how many times we turn our back on him, or in frustration or anger we kick at him, he will continue to look at us -- his eyes filled with love.
We are called to reflect the Image, and we can only reflect what we are facing. It is we who have turned our backs on God and are reflecting the world that we see around us. We are the ones who are uncomfortable with God still looking our way, wishing that we could hide our sins from him, but we can't because in his gracious love he refuses to take his gaze from us.
No, God will never turn his back on you or on me. This means that our capacity to reflect the Image will never be totally lost -- no matter how long my back is turned on God, and no matter how filthy I become because of sin. If only I will turn around and face God, he will still always be there looking at me with love-filled eyes, drawing me back toward him and I will once again reflect him. My ability to reflect God is never completely lost, because God will not look away, not even long enough to swallow some spit. That's how much he loves you and me. And that is my God -- the one in whom I can put my trust!
Lord, thank you for your tenacious love. Amen.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Psa. 108:1 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make melody.
Awake, my soul!
Psa. 108:2 Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn.
Psa. 108:3 I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples,
and I will sing praises to you among the nations.
Psa. 108:4 For your steadfast love is higher than the heavens,
and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
The Psalmist is often going through difficult days, and yet, we find wonderful lines of praise to God. It is in his praise to God that he finds the rock and anchor for his life. His heart is steadfast in praise to God, for God is the one who is steadfast. The Psalmist awakens and gives praise to God. I think the music of praise must have been pretty loud because he says he's going to "awaken the dawn!"
Praise is lifted up to the Father, but praise is also shared among the people. It is in the midst of others that the Psalmist lifts up his praise of God -- and among other nations that may be hostile to worship of Yahweh. It is in his praise of God that he experiences the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.
Yesterday I heard a testimony of one who has "overcome" many hurdles in life -- and then was asked the secret to overcoming those hurdles on a daily basis. The answer was to read the word -- praise the Lord -- and pray, and in that order! How often do we talk about the place of reading the word and of prayer, but we miss out on praise. There is a place for praise in our lives, just as the Psalmist learned through his journey.
What happens when we praise? It is in our praise to God that we get our eyes off of ourselves and our focus completely on him. He alone is the one who is worthy of praise and honor and glory. There is joy in praising God and suddenly that joy comes bubbling out of us as we greet the dawn. I love that line, "I will awake the dawn." I think that his heart becomes so full of praise to God in the morning that he can no longer keep quiet. He's playing a little number on his harp and suddenly he's so excited that he gets carried away and even the neighbors hear him -- and he really doesn't care! Why? Because his heart has become so filled with praise to God that nothing else really matters.
Maybe it's time for us to put praise into our spiritual practices. Read the word. Praise the Lord. Pray. It sounds like that's just the right place for praise in our lives!
Lord, may my heart be lifted to you in praise every day. Amen.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Acts 9:3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
Acts 9:4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Acts 9:5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Acts 9:13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem;
Acts 9:14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”
Paul had received permission to persecute the Christians. He traveled with the intention of hurting those who were calling on the name of Jesus and yet when Jesus confronts him on the road to Damascus, he challenges him with the question, "Why do you persecute me?" Jesus made it abundantly clear that Paul was directly persecuting Jesus when he attacked his followers. While Paul didn't look beyond the fact that he was persecuting people, the reality was that the pain was being inflicted on Christ himself.
I'm at the "Come to the Fire" Conference for just a few days to soak in the presence of the Lord! Last night Beth Coppedge brought a powerful message from the Lord where she reminded us that persecutions in life come -- that difficulties in life will be faced -- but in the midst of it all Jesus asks, "Am I worth it?" And this bring us to today's scripture -- for when the difficulties come we must remember that the attacks are against Jesus, and not us. When Jesus confronted Paul he didn't say, "I am Jesus whose people you are persecuting." No, he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."
Spiritual warfare is for real! There are battles that happen in the heavenly realms -- power plays and struggles that are beyond our comprehension. There may be times when we are caught in the grind of those struggles and we wonder what is happening. Beth brought us to the question last night -- "Is it worth it?" And the response is -- yes, for "He is worthy." "Is Jesus worth it?" Yes, so that the world may see the glory of God.
Our personal identity is not in ourselves or in our woundedness, instead, our identity is in Jesus. In the midst of that we can become filled with love for those who try to hurt us, because as we reflect the image, we are participating in Christ. Paul was persecuting Christ and Christ reached out to save Paul in love. Our identity is in Christ and our response is in him as well. Yes, suffering and pain is worth it, for he is the one who is worthy and we serve in faithfulness to him -- with ever greater participation in him -- responding as him, for we are in him and he in us. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."
Lord, may you be lifted up and glorified today. Amen.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Job 1:20 ¶ Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped.
Job 1:21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Job 1:22 ¶ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.
Acts 7:54 ¶ When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.
Acts 7:55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Acts 7:56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
Acts 7:57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.
Acts 7:58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Acts 7:59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Acts 7:60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
Job was a good man. He was a righteous man. He loved God and served God and yet everything he had was taken from him, including his children. In the midst of it all he kept his eyes focused on his relationship with God. He continued to praise God. He never blamed God.
Stephen was a good man. He was a righteous man. He loved God and served God faithfully and yet the religious leaders couldn't stand him. In the midst of it all he kept his eyes on Jesus -- and lifted his gaze to see the Lord cheering him on. The religious leaders covered their ears -- for they didn't want to hear the words of this man as he continued to praise God. He didn't blame God, and in the moment of his death, he forgave those who had inflicted the pain upon him.
When you think about it, the Bible doesn't have many people in it who were all that successful by the world's standards. Instead we read story after story about those who remained faithful while facing great difficulty. Job is a man who suffered, and yet he would not curse God. He didn't sin, nor did he "charge God with wrong-doing." Stephen remained full of grace while facing ridiculous charges against him.
How can God help us to respond as these two? I believe the secret to their response is their personal relationship with God. When we look at God and draw closer to him, then the things of the world really do "grow strangely dim." The Father waits for us with open arms of love, waiting to draw us into his embrace.
Was God happy with what happened to these two servants? No -- he was not. I believe that when we see Jesus "standing" at the right hand of the Father, we are witnessing his reaction to what he sees happening on earth. Normally we read about Jesus being "seated" at the right hand - but in this moment he is standing. I believe he is angry and disappointed with what the religious leaders are doing to his servant, Stephen. But he always wants Stephen to see him standing there in solidarity with him -- reaching out to him. And as Stephen keeps his eyes on Jesus, he is able to be a reflection of Jesus, responding to those around him in the same way that Christ did on the cross. There, in his suffering, Stephen is a reflection of the Image to the world around him.
Whatever it is that we may be facing this day -- may we never keep our eyes off the goal -- Jesus! Just as both of these men suffered, so we may suffer. But may we never curse God, nor sin -- instead, keeping our eyes on Jesus who will stand up for us and usher us into his holy presence. That's all that really matters.
Lord, come in your Spirit and power today. Amen.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Malachi 3:6-12 “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them.
Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
Acts 5:1-11 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
These two Scriptures speak to us about a similar subject. Malachi was speaking to the people of God who were supposed to be bringing in an offering of a tithe to the temple. The people had been unfaithful in their support of God's work. God considered it robbery because everything that they had was from God. He only asked for a tithe to be brought back to him -- a small sign of their love and fidelity to God. But they had kept all that they had for themselves and then they had even squandered it on other gods. Here is the one time in scripture that God says to test him. Try this out -- and see how God will care for his people!
Now we move to the book of Acts and the story of a couple, Ananias and Sapphira who were a part of the new movement of Christians after the Day of Pentecost. Those within the community were showing their faith in Christ by loving their neighbors. Often people went and sold things and brought in offerings to the Apostles to support the ministry. The problem with Ananias and Sapphira was that they lied. They did sell a field and they did bring money to the Apostles. However, their motivation was to look good…so they lied about how much money they had gotten for the field and pretended that they were extremely generous individuals and were giving it all away. The reality was that they had kept some of the money for themselves. If only they had been honest, but they were trying to cheat God and the Apostles by looking like magnanimous individuals while still retaining some personal spending money. They did test God -- and died instantly as a result.
God is looking for faithful individuals -- people who will be wholeheartedly committed to him. Those who cheated him, whether out of a tithe, or by pretending to be generous, lost it all. There can be no cheating God!
We give our money to "other" gods all the time these days. We may not go off on another mountain to worship a "foreign" god -- but we might give of our finances to purchase things that become our gods. We may have mountains topped with houses, cars, clothing, jewelry, video games, electronic equipment, etc. and all of this gets our financial support before we bring our offerings before the Lord. Yes, that is cheating God -- for we are cheating "on" God by being faithful to the things of this world and not to him.
There would be some who would argue that these stories are no longer relevant and the idea of tithing and bringing in generous offerings before the Lord are simply things of the past. They are not! These truths are timeless and God is still challenging us and saying, "test me in this!" Faithfulness to God means that we don't cheat on him. Faithfulness to God means that we bring in the entire tithe -- that we generously give -- not for the kudos, but because our hearts have been changed. We love God and desire nothing more than to give him all we have -- including full and complete access to our finances!
Don't try to cheat God; instead, be faithful, recognizing that all we have is his.
Lord, thank you for your faithfulness to me. Please, help me to be faithful to you in all things. Amen.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Malachi 2:15-16: So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
The Israelites had made divorce far too easy. Excuse after excuse was given for divorcing one's wife and the written document for divorce was extremely easy to obtain. If a man saw a woman more attractive than his wife, he could send his wife away for she was no longer pleasing to him. If a man felt that his wife had become run down from her domestic duties, he could divorce her and begin with a new wife that would still be fresh. The rabbis actually helped to write up these options for divorce for the men and therefore the marriage covenant had been frequently and easily broken.
Now, God is speaking to the people through the prophet Malachi. God knew that the fidelity between a husband and a wife was a reflection of the peoples' relationship with him. Men were supposed to be faithful to the wives they had taken in their youth. They were not supposed to trade them in for the latest model! The wives of their youth were the ones they were to protect and care for -- not throw away. Therefore there were not to hate, but to love their wives. They were not to divorce, which was equated with violence, but they were to protect their wives.
There should be no excuse for simply "falling in love" with someone else -- but there is to be a guarding of the heart so that a man stays faithful to the wife of his youth. And when the Israelites could understand this -- they could also understand the depths of the personal relationship to which God was calling them. God had been faithful to them since their youth, but they were the ones who had chosen to walk away. They were the ones who had divorced their God and had made every excuse possible for "falling in love" with foreign women and their gods. It was not that easy -- they didn't understand the need for fidelity. If they could not be faithful to their wives here on earth, how could they be faithful to God on high?
Are we really all that different today? Isn't there a correlation between loving God and loving neighbor that Jesus talked about? And who is our closest neighbor? Of course, it's our spouse!
Today this message can go both ways -- to the husband and the wife. There must be a life-long commitment to the spouses of our youth, that we will not easily turn them aside and leave them.
Divorce is the curse of our world today and the statistics within the church are just as bad as those outside the church. Marriages have become disposable and we send spouses away for the some of the same reasons that they did back when the rabbis were handing out the excuses. There is a reason that the prophet said to "be on your guard." For a marriage to survive, the partners must be on their guard against the potential threats and this requires a commitment to one another and a self-discipline which does not allow temptations to grow up within the heart.
While the statistics for divorce are overall the same within the church as in the world, there is another statistic that is rarely spoken of -- the small number of divorces among those who seek God together. When a couple has a prayer and devotional life together -- when they seek the face of God together -- something completely different happens. The statistic drops to around 5% that divorce. In today's culture that's a significantly small number. Could it be that when a couple chooses to purposely seek the face of God that they are, together, transformed into the image of God, and this unites them even deeper in love and mutual purpose? When we begin this journey with the spouse of our youth -- imagine what the years might bring to the relationship! Years of joy and service to God and in mutual service and love to one another.
God wanted this kind of relationship with his beloved people. He invites us into this type of relationship with him today. He wants us to be united to him in faithfulness. In return he is our protector and will journey with us throughout life. We should ignore the voices of the rabbis -- and of those in the world -- that continually give us excuses to throw away our marriages. Instead, we should unite together and seek the face of God -- allowing him to transform us and our marriages into a reflection of the love found in God. Then the world would see the faithfulness of God reflected in us. Therefore, be faithful to the spouse of your youth!
Lord, help me to be a faithful partner. Amen.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Neh. 11:1 ¶ Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem; and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in the holy city Jerusalem, while nine-tenths remained in the other towns.
Neh. 11:2 And the people blessed all those who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem.
The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt on the old foundations. The city was large but mostly unpopulated and now an invitation was made for citizens to come and fill the city. Not enough people responded to the challenge to come to the city. It was much more pleasant to live outside the walls of the city; a person had more freedom. If one were to live in Jerusalem there would be a higher expectation of living the spiritual life -- the place of worship was there within the walls. The trade routes didn't go through the city of Jerusalem and it made it much more difficult to make a good living. The houses within Jerusalem had been destroyed, rundown or neglected. Who would want to live there? No wonder there wasn't much of a response.
Nehemiah challenged the people to provide a tithe of the people themselves to be given as an offering to live in the city. Therefore lots were cast and one tenth of the people living in other towns were sent to Jerusalem to populate the city. Knowing that this was a great sacrifice to those individuals they were blessed by the other people.
Just imagine that Jerusalem looked a bit like downtown Detroit these days. This was no prize to be invited back into the city -- and yet it was a mission to which God was calling his people.
|Ballroom, Lee Plaza Hotel photo by Marchand & Mefree|
|United Artists Theater photo by Marchand & Mefree|
|Abandoned Packard Plant|
What if God were calling his people back into cities like Detroit these days? Would we be willing to go? Many of our cities around the world are becoming more and more crowded with humanity -- a humanity in desperate need of Jesus Christ. What better way to bring the light of Christ into the communities than bringing in people who are willing to be a tithe -- an offering -- so that they can be a reflection of Jesus Christ to that part of the world.
St. Basil the Great in the 4th century moved his monasteries to the cities for this very reason. He determined that it was not good for the religious people to live outside the cities in isolation from those who needed the touch of Jesus the most. He wanted the people to experience the touch of Jesus on their lives and therefore he moved his ministry to the cities and lived there among the people -- ministering to their daily needs. He opened the first soup kitchens in history during a time of terrible famine. His influence continues to be felt to this day as he believed that he and his monks were to be icons of Jesus Christ living in the city.
What if God were calling an entire new generation of individuals to be a tithe to the cities of the world? Could it be that we have come to believe that serving God should not require such sacrifice? Maybe we're a bit like the people of Nehemiah's day -- we want to have the comforts of where we currently live. We want to have the good business opportunities of the suburbs. And then -- if we chose to live this lifestyle people might expect a level of spirituality from us that we really don't want to live!
In that day they referred to this as the New Jerusalem. Today we are awaiting another New Jerusalem -- but there is a cost involved in living in that city as well. To live in the New Jerusalem requires a real commitment on our part. It requires leaving the things of this world that may seem precious to us and giving all in service to God. It requires giving up the "success" of the world -- for the "success" of the kingdom. It means that we have a kingdom mentality -- rather than a concern for individual prosperity. The people who moved to Jerusalem moved there as their commitment to the kingdom. We must be willing to move to the place where God desires for the good of the kingdom as well. It may be a physical move to the city -- or anyplace else he desires -- or it may be a move away from personal independence and into sacrificial service for the kingdom. Either way -- would you be willing to live in the city?
Lord, please help me to be willing to serve you in any place and/or way you desire. Amen.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Neh. 10:38 And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.
Neh. 10:39 For the people of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of grain, wine, and oil to the storerooms where the vessels of the sanctuary are, and where the priests that minister, and the gatekeepers and the singers are. We will not neglect the house of our God.
The exiles were pledging their support to God's work in the rebuilt Jerusalem. This time around there would be no king to financially support the work of the temple, or those serving in the temple. Now, the people would have to determine that they would not neglect the house of their God. The entire passage lets us see how they planned to bring in a tithe -- the first fruit of their labors to be used in the kingdom. The Levites who were spread about in the cities would collect this tithe. This helped to support the local ministry and the Levites themselves. The Levites would then send a tithe of these offerings to the temple to support the Temple and the Priests who served there. The commitment of these people was great. They would do all they could to ensure the enduring ministry of the Levites, the Priests and also the work of the Temple. They would never again, "neglect the house of our God."
I'm afraid that there aren't many Christians these days who truly believe in tithing. Statistics show that tithing is decreasing (at least in America) and strategists are telling those who are working in the Church to plan on the support to continue to decrease. People are too overcome with debt and the demands of society to tithe. If that is true, what is going to happen to the Church? Have even Christians determined that they WILL neglect the house of our God?
No matter how you feel about the faithfulness of the Jews -- from this time on they faithfully supported the work of the Temple. Many gave up to 30% of their income in service to God. They did this steadfastly even in face of high taxes and pressures imposed upon them by their own and surrounding governments. This was a commitment that they had made -- and they were going to be faithful in caring for the things of God.
The Church will survive these difficult days if the people of God will again be committed to the house of God. God helped the Israelites establish a system to support the Levies, the Priests and the Temple. The system worked! The system works today, when all of God's people are faithful. Churches today would not have any difficulty in fulfilling their mission if the people attending were faithful in their tithes and offerings. Not only would the house of God be cared for -- but the workers would be paid as well -- and there would be money to do ministry in the community.
Sadly, we are facing a crisis in the Church. Many of our ministers are barely being paid and are having to work in secular employment to be able to support their own families. Churches can barely keep their utilities paid, let alone minister to their surrounding communities. Instead of the Church being the recipients of the first-fruits, she has become the recipient of the left-overs.
Nearly every day I indulge myself in reading different commentaries on the scriptures. I always find it fascinating to see what these other authors get from these scriptures. One of those commentators is an older, classical commentary by Adam Clarke. What I found fascinating about his response to day's text was that it was not his normal reaction. After giving his commentary he wrote a section to the Reader.
"READER, 1. Art thou of this house? 2. Art thou in this house? 3. To what part of the family dost thou belong? 4. Art thou still an infant in this house? 5. Dost thou attend the ordinances of this house? 6. Hast thou forsaken this house? These questions are of great importance; answer them as in the sight of God."
He almost sounds emotional as he gets to this point. This idea of supporting the work of the ministry is no light matter. We have a responsibility to not neglect the house of God and we will have to answer for this before God. What are the priorities in our life? Will we care for the house of God and of those serving in the house of God? As God's people we must not be influenced by the culture of our day, but we must, instead, stand up for what we believe in and continue in faithful support of the Church that God has placed into our care. We must never again neglect the house of our God!
Lord, help us to be your faithful people. Amen.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Neh. 8:14 And they found it written in the law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the people of Israel should live in booths during the festival of the seventh month,
Neh. 8:15 and that they should publish and proclaim in all their towns and in Jerusalem as follows, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.”
Neh. 8:16 So the people went out and brought them, and made booths for themselves, each on the roofs of their houses, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim.
Neh. 8:17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them; for from the days of Jeshua son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.
Neh. 8:18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the book of the law of God. They kept the festival seven days; and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance.
The exiles had returned home and they were a rather motley crew. So much had been lost in the past. Throughout their years of infidelity they had little by little stopped worshipping the one true God. Instead they had adopted the ways of the world around them. No longer was there a collective memory of the God who loved them. Now, they had spent seventy years in exile. This was a time that God could use to purify them of all the filth they had adopted in their idolatry. They returned home a people who had lost everything, and now were seeking to rebuild. On this foundation God was able to help them begin again.
First, he provided security by having Nehemiah lead them in rebuilding the walls. Next, the people were brought together and the prophet Ezra read to them aloud from the Law of God. The people were quiet and attentive as he read for hours. They wept when they realized what they had forgotten and subsequently lost.
The traditions had not been upheld and the celebrations for remembrance had not been honored. They are reminded that they were to celebrate the feast of booths. This was a time of remembering the 40 years that the children of Israel had wandered in the wilderness. So they were all to build booths or shelters and live in them and celebrate the past, remembering God's faithfulness to his people. As they lived into the past the joy of the Lord filled their hearts and "there was great rejoicing."
Sometimes if feels as if we live in a disposable society. The products that we purchase these days are not built for permanence; instead they are built to be cheap and to be replaced when they give out. When we moved back from Russia we bought a Maytag washing machine because of the reputation. I thought, "I'll have this washer for the rest of my life." Imagine my shock when the machine died after just 5 years. We called for the repairman who told us it would be cheaper to simply by a new washer than to have this one fixed. Really? Even the name Maytag means nothing?
The children of Israel had made their religion disposable. No longer did they focus on the true God and/or trying to pass along knowledge of him from one generation to the next. They had lost the very anchor of their lives by allowing in every form of worship society had to offer, and as a result had nothing. Doesn't that sound a bit like us today? It seems that even in our worship of God we have tried so hard to be attractive to the world that we may have given up on some of our traditions -- traditions which may actually serve to anchor us to our faith.
There is something incredibly important about remembering -- and having celebrations of remembrance. The traditions and traditional practices help to root us to a faith which has been in existence for centuries. Just as the returning exiles needed to be reconnected to Abraham and to the signs of God's faithfulness as he defined them as a people, so we need to be connected to those who have gone before us.
Celebrating Easter in the former Soviet Union was THE event of the year in the Christian calendar. During the days of Communist rule the Church was not allowed to celebrate many of their traditional holidays, but Easter -- Easter remained! While the Eastern and Western Churches do not normally celebrate Easter on the same day, during the days of the Soviet Union -- ALL of Christianity within those borders celebrated on the same day. This was a time to remember why the Church existed! Jesus Christ was risen! And the risen Christ gives hope to all of life.
"He is Risen!" It doesn't matter if you're Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox -- you know that the appropriate response is, "He is Risen Indeed!" Why? Because this is a celebration of our Tradition! It is on Easter Sunday morning that we have our celebration of remembrance -- stepping into history and experiencing what it must have been like for those followers of Jesus Christ as they realized that he was the Messiah and that he was alive!
As followers of Jesus Christ, and members of the body of Christ, we must make it a priority to intentionally celebrate our traditions. Without living into them the stories will be lost. We must teach them to our children and our children's children! We cannot allow our disposable society to so inform our worship so that we begin to see the celebration of traditions as optional. Just as the children of Israel discovered the value of the celebration of remembrance, rejoicing greatly and weeping, so must we. In doing so we will experience what it is that God has done for us and pass along the traditions to the next generations.
Lord, help us to hold to the celebrations that allow us to remember what you have done for us. Amen.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
Jesus had shared with the disciples from the scriptures throughout his entire ministry. They should have been able to see and to clearly understand, and yet they did not. They had seen that the scriptures pointed toward the coming of the Messiah and they believed and yet, somehow they were unable to connect those scriptures with Jesus. On the road to Emmaus the followers were able to discuss scripture with Jesus, but it wasn't until he broke bread with them that they suddenly saw and understood that it was him! In this moment when Christ appears to his disciples the dots begin to connect. This is their "aha" moment when it all begins to make sense. Their minds have been opened and now they are "getting it."
I think of all the times in my own life when I just haven't "gotten it." This may be in relation to understanding the scriptures, or in simply finding the Lord's leadership and direction in life. I've been reading the Bible through each year for many years now. I'm surprised how each time I discover new truths. I believe that the Lord continues to open my mind to understanding the scriptures in new and different ways. There should never be a time when we think that we are finished or that we have gotten everything that there is for us to get out of the word. Instead, the scriptures should be lifelong companions in the journey, ever opening to us deeper truths in our relationship and walk with him. Just when I thought I was "getting it" last year, now I am "getting it" anew as I walk new paths on my journey with Jesus.
The disciples didn't understand all the implications for the coming kingdom of God. They thought they did, but they really didn't. They thought they wanted things to happen a particular way, but that wasn't Jesus' way -- and it's because they simply did not "get it." Only when their minds were opened were they able to get a clear picture and understanding of all that was going on. It became an "aha" moment for them when they realized where they fit into the whole picture. No, it wasn't what they had thought they wanted, nor what they had anticipated, but now -- they got it!
There are times when we think we know what we want from God. We think that we understand the direction -- where he is leading, but we are not seeing it all clearly. Jesus instructed his followers to go to Jerusalem and wait until they were "clothed with power from on high." He knew that when this happened they would be empowered on a daily basis to "get it." From the day of Pentecost onward the disciples truly do "get it." They see the world and the kingdom of God through Jesus' eyes and their actions reveal this very fact. No longer is there any discussion about political overthrow or worldly power, instead they follow the path of Jesus and become reflections of him everywhere they go.
There is more to the word than meets the eye. The word draws us into a living and active relationship with Jesus Christ, engaging us to participate in the kingdom. Do you get it?
Lord, please help me to have my mind open and to get it so that I may faithfully serve you in the kingdom. Amen.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Luke 23:31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
This is the comment made in the face of the death sentence Jesus was about to receive. Jesus is the green wood - he is the tree of life -- and green wood is hard to burn for it is filled with water and life, but kill him they would. Jesus' judgement was being pronounced upon the religious leaders and Jerusalem itself. They had become dry wood, the kind that we use for kindling. If they will burn and destroy the green wood, just imagine what happens when a spark is put to their dry wood! The city would soon be destroyed and the religious leaders themselves deposed. Beware when the dry wood plots destruction of the green.
Think of the suffering that Jesus faced at the hands of the religious leaders who were really dead spiritually. Jesus was the one who was alive and yet they thought they could take him on. Jesus, even though he was alive spiritually, had to go through great suffering to bring about the freedom of all of humanity.
I would guess that we are each somewhere where on the spectrum of dry to green in our spiritual lives. The goal should be to be as green as possible as the life-giving Spirit of God fills us with himself. Beware of thinking that because you are filled with life that you will not have to face difficulties in life. Jesus had to face death -- and he was life itself! The good news, however, is that when the wood is green -- Jesus -- experienced resurrection power -- and we will too! The life-giving water which flows through us will take us through the trials of life and we will be able to come out preserved and full of him!
Now, if that is the experience of the one who is green -- just imagine the experience of those who are dry. The religious leaders should have been alive spiritually, but they were dead. Even those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ may find themselves in the dry kindling and the problem is when the difficulties come -- when a small spark is placed on the dry wood -- it far too easily catches fire and burns. This is the danger for those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ and yet do not remain connected to the root source.
We must stay connected to him so that his green life flows through us and so that we can pass through the fire. Remaining connected to him means that we do all that we can to stay in a right relationship with him on a daily basis. We discover that our lives are a journey in which we are falling ever more desperately in love with him -- and we allow his life-giving Holy Spirit to fill every corner of our being. If this is not our experience, we will become dry.
A woman came up to me a few weeks ago and said she had been a believer for many, many years now, but had never thought about falling desperately in love with Jesus! Her religion had been a dry religion, one in which she had been faithful to the structures, the systems and the rules, but had never realized there was green life to be found in an intimate and loving relationship with our Savior, Jesus. Her prayer was that she would fall desperately in love with Jesus. You see, if the wood is green….
Lord, may my wood be green. Amen.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Neh. 2:10 When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.
Nehemiah was overcome with grief for his people. When he heard the reports coming from Jerusalem, that the gates were burned and the walls destroyed, he was overcome with compassion for his own. His grief was visible to the king and he was sent home to bring about the repairs of the city. When he saw the city and made inspection with his own eyes he again grieved. He wanted to care for the welfare of his people. On the other hand there were those who were greedily looking forward to the complete demise of the Israelites. Sanballat and Tobiah were grieved that someone would "seek the welfare of the children of Israel." It was their own greed and self-centeredness that would not allow them to have any form of compassion for the Israelites and now they grieved when witnessing Nehemiah's passion.
We may think that the reaction of Sanballat and Tobiah is extreme, but there may be times when we need to evaluate our own motivations. What is it in these two that wanted to see the fall of Israel? Are there times that we want to see the demise of others and we are disappointed, or grieved, when things suddenly seem to go well for them? I've listened as ex-spouses cringe when things go well for the other. I've heard "Christians" desire bad things for someone who has done them wrong. At the end of the day, I think it is God who is left grieving -- at the hearts of his children who do not understand true compassion. The hearts of Sanballat and Tobiah should have grieved at the fate of the Israelites, not that there was someone who sought their welfare. Note the language, not only were they grieved, they were exceedingly grieved.
Nehemiah is the one who shows us what true grief ought to be about. His grief was brought on not by a self-centered response, but by his own personal response to the suffering of his people. His was a response that grew out of love and empathy. These are two completely different sources of grief and we need to examine where we may find ourselves on this continuum. Jesus is a leader like Nehemiah. Jesus was overcome with grief for all people. He came in the form of a human to draw humanity back into a salvific relationship with the Father.
If holiness is Christlikeness, then we must find ourselves stepping into the shoes of Jesus and carrying with us the grief that he felt for a lost world. We should be grieved by those around us who are lost. We should be grieved by those around us who are poor. We should be grieved by those around us who are sick. We should be grieved by those around us who are suffering. And then, just as Nehemiah and Jesus, we should pray for God's guidance to take our grief and interact with our world in such a way that we will be used to make a difference.
At the same time -- may the "officials" see our action and be grieved, because it will mess up their own political intents! May our actions grieve the world because the love of Jesus will thwart their desire to use the marginalized of the world for their personal manipulation and gain.
What grieves you today?
Lord, may my heart break for the things that you see. Amen.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Luke 21:37 ¶ Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called.
Luke 21:38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.
This is that same week in which Jesus had made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. What did he do during the weekdays leading up to the fateful weekend of his death? He continued the self-discipline which he had always held. He never gave up preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. He would spend his days in the temple teaching. Realizing he needed rest he would leave in the evenings and head back over to the Mount of Olives -- probably going to Bethany to rest for the night and have personal time in prayer with the Father. After being refreshed himself, he would arise early and make his way back to the temple where he would begin again to teach. Those who really wanted to learn from him would also rise early and join him at the temple, eager to hear what he had to share.
Jesus' life is one filled with self-discipline! I believe he had to work at disciplining his human flesh so that he could serve his Father. This included the discipline of spending time in prayer, sleep, and his own spiritual refreshment. So here's a good point -- if Jesus needed these things -- how much more do we? Jesus started out his day being renewed by the presence of his Father and then provided the same for those who would join him for early morning teaching. Shouldn't we join in the same practices if we want to be Christlike disciples?
There have been seasons in my life where spending time with God -- especially in the morning -- has been harder than others. I like my sleep -- and actually, I need my sleep. My family will attest to the fact that I am a real grouch if I don't get enough sleep. Jesus was disciplined about getting enough rest and if he was, how much more do we? Part of spiritual discipline is getting enough rest for our bodies. I also know that when my children were smaller -- having enough "sane" moments to spend with the Lord was at times difficult. Finding moments alone was difficult -- and yet, somehow I wanted to squeeze in some time with him. I am now in another season of life where I don't have those distractions and so I must be faithful with the time God has given me.
Once we get the rest we need, we should examine how we are starting out our days. The people in Jerusalem -- those who wanted to learn from Jesus -- were willing to get up early and go to the temple just to soak in what he had to teach them. We don't have to go to Jerusalem these days. I can sit in the comfy chair in my living room drinking a piping hot cup of tea and read God's word without ever leaving the warmth of my home while soaking up what the Lord wants to teach me. That's the blessing into which I can live these days. I want Jesus to be the first thing and the last thing in my day. I want him to be always before me and defining how I will live my life this day. I want to constantly be learning from him and being transformed by him.
If you are struggling with Jesus being first -- and the first thing in your day -- pray and then put some disciplines into practice that will help you seek him in the morning. It may transform your whole day -- and your life!
Lord, may I see your face today and always. Amen.